Today’s Reading: Luke 10
A politician finds their opponent on the side of the road with their car broken down, do they stop and help her? If a die-hard Yankees fan sees a Boston Red Sox fan at a check-out at a local store and he is short money, does the Yankees fan help him?
More serious: if a racial justice advocate sees an adversary standing at a stop light with a legitimate sign that says that person needs food or assistance, do they keep on driving?
This is not crazy talk, this is Jesus talk. And this is exactly what happens in Luke 10 where we come to one of the most intriguing parables Jesus ever told.
These crazy contrasts are what the story of the good Samaritan asks and answers. But instead of Democrats and Republicans or sports rivals, He uses two people groups who disdained each other:
Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?”
He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”
He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”
“Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”
Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”
Jesus answered by telling a story. “There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.
“A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’
“What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?”
“The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded.
Jesus said, “Go and do the same.” (Luke 10:25-37, MSG)
This story is explosive because of the characters involved. The Jews and the Samaritans hated each other. And so Jesus asked the question: which of the men was a real neighbor?
For me, I have been part of helping a lot of people in very needy inner cities. Let me confess . . . the ones I hate helping are ungrateful people.
We bring them food, their response is, “That’s not enough” or “I don’t like that kind of meat” or “I wanted Sprite not Coke.” It’s frustrating enough to make me not want to help them, because I want to only help the people who say, “Thank you.”
But Jesus does not give me that option. Jesus says, “You can’t pick and choose who you will help.”
As Brennan Manning reminds us, “The litmus test of our love for God is our love of neighbor.” The apostle John puts it this way: “If anyone says ‘I love God,’ but keeps on hating his brother, he is a liar; for if he doesn’t love his brother who is right there in front of him, how can he love God whom he has never seen?” (1 John 4:20, TLB).
What does that mean? It means that I love God as much as the person I dislike the most.
In our story, we have an injured Jew, and no Jews help him. He is the victim of a crime. And two religious people pass by—a priest and a Levite—and they do nothing. And the one who finally does something is the Jew’s archenemy.
The priest found an angle.
The Levite avoided.
The Samaritan saw someone, felt something, and acted.
That’s called compassion.
Jesus isn’t separating the men from the boys, Jesus is separating the real Christian from the merely religious.
We take three philosophies from the good Samaritan story:
1. The robber’s philosophy was, What you have is mine, and I will take it.
2. The priest and Levite had the philosophy, What is mine is mine, and I will keep it.
3. The Samaritan’s philosophy was, What is mine is yours, and I will share it.
In 1973 two researchers at Princeton, John M. Darley and C. Daniel Batson, told a group of theology students that they were to go across campus to deliver a sermon on the topic of the Good Samaritan. As part of the research, some of these students were told that they were late and needed to hurry up. Along their route across campus, Darley and Baston had hired an actor to play the role of a victim who was coughing and suffering. They discovered that 90 percent of the “late” Princeton Theology Seminary students ignored the needs of the suffering person in their hurry to get across campus.
“Indeed,” the study reports, “on several occasions, a seminary student going to give his talk on the parable of the Good Samaritan literally stepped over the victim as he hurried on his way!”
The lawyer’s question, “Who is my neighbor?” is not answered. Instead, Jesus answers the larger question, “To whom must I become a neighbor?” The answer: anyone in need.
The Good Samaritan has lived in memory for centuries without a name. I think that is because any name can be inserted. It’s not, “Well, that’s Mother Teresa.” It’s left open for you to insert a name.
In one of his sermons, Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I imagine that the first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But by the very nature of his concern, the Good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’”
Are you willing to insert your name in the blank of the story?
Do you want to know how to be a good Samaritan?
Do you want to know how to put your name in the blank?
First, keep your eyes open on your daily journeys. People need help everywhere. Jesus told the man and tells us, “Go and do the same.”
Second, you can’t be a Samaritan without the oil, time, and money. I see help coming three ways: oil for the wound; time to help; money for the hotel.
It costs to be a good Samaritan.
It costs to do God’s will.
It’s a cost . . . but it’s worth it.